Rest: on irony and (not) being a god

Rest might seem the most ridiculous thing for someone with a two-week-old baby to write about, but Krish Kandiah‘s conversation on facebook and blog post on rest got me thinking. This is an expansion of my comment on his post, perhaps a little more thought through (although with the sleep deprivation…)

Firstly, I have to confess that rest and ‘sabbath’ is something I’ve wrestled with since my childhood in a home that ‘kept Sunday special’. I can recognise now that for a lot of people who are involved in church ministry, especially those for whom it is not their ‘job’, Sunday is not ‘a day of rest’, however ‘holy to the LORD’ it might be. Sunday can be a day of work just as much as Monday  to Friday, just a different kind of work. True Sabbath it exemplified by the meal that Jews will share on a Friday evening. The evening is written off for sharing, conversation, spending time with family and worshipping God. Planning and delivering a sermon, Sunday School class, leading worship – these things are good and blessed by God but they are not rest.

When I am busy, it gives me a feeling of control. I am planning, reading, thinking, building, cooking, repairing, responding. I am making things better, I am fixing things, averting crisis. At times I can see this control is an illusion, but often I believe the lie that I am in control, that I can do anything I need to.

When I rest, I have to give up the protection of busyness and the illusion of control and stop. If something isn’t done by me it might never get done – when I rest I have to trust that that’s OK. I am not a god; the world will not stop if I do.

The fourth commandment of the Ten is not a call to meaningless religious services but (like the previous three commands) a reminder that in all we do we must recognise that YHWH is God. (The commandments go on to show what it means to recognise that we are (wo)men – there’s no ‘merely’ in there, it is a dignified and righteous thing to live acting wholly in the knowledge of our humanity, recognising God’s being and transcendence.) It is physically possible to work all the time. It is possible that you might get more done that way. But knowing God (not in an academic sense of studying but rather relationally, intimately) requires us to rest. We must rest, not because he needs us to sing to him once a week, but rather that we need to remind ourselves that the world is bigger than us, that God is bigger.

A few more thoughts. For five years I was a secondary school teacher. Teaching is an all consuming job; there are always more lessons to plan, more coursework to mark, new ideas to explore. It’s easy to spend every evening working and then more at the weekend. I chose to make at least one day each week a day where school work was banned. It wasn’t necessarily Sunday (though which day to take a Sabbath is another story…) but it helped me retain some element of balance, even when in ‘special measures’ and planning ridiculous numbers of lessons. In fact, if Sunday is a day of “the Lord’s work”, you need a different ‘day of rest’. The weekly frequency is important to me, too. Working solidly for a month followed by a long weekend is not OK – holy-days are in addition to Sabbaths in scripture, that model is given for a reason.

I’m sure there are many more things that can be said about rest – I’d love to hear some more angles on this.

It’s useless to rise early and go to bed late,
and work your worried fingers to the bone.
Don’t you know he (the LORD) enjoys
giving rest to those he loves?
Psalm 127:2, The Message